I never realized how much my life was in need of a World War II sci-fi thriller/horror until Overlord. From zombies, Nazi-killing characters, an unpredictable plot, a strong female character not tied down to a romantic subplot and a black lead, Overlord checks off way too many boxes for me not to enjoy every second.
For viewers willing to just go along for the ride, it’s one of the most suspenseful and fun films of the year.
An American paratrooper squad is tasked with taking down a Nazi-occupied to help facilitate the D-Day invasion. While most of the squad quickly get gunned down, a small group of survivors rallies to complete the mission.
Among the survivors is Boyce (Jovan Adepo, Fences), a private who is still trying to wrap his head around the war.
Given the film throws in zombies, screenwriters Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith can get a pass for completely ignoring racial issues. Overlord isn’t a historical piece and I kind of appreciated the color blind approach as it further sold the fantasy world the characters inhabited.
Ford (Wyatt Russell) assumes command while sharpshooter Tibbet (John Magaro, Liberal Arts) keeps his motormouth running. Photographer Chase (Agents of SHIELD’s Iain De Caestecker working hard to hide his Scottish accent) only intended to document the battle and not be a pivotal player in the events.
Initially, the film plays out like the standard war movie. The loudmouth soldier assures everyone their mission is going to go off without a hitch until it doesn’t. Another starts talking about his post-war plans, which ends the same way it does for any soldier in a war movie. But when Boyce and the others encounter villager Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) that the film takes a decidedly unpredictable path.
The Nazis have seized Chloe’s village and randomly take family members to conduct experiments on. Chloe and her brother have only been spared because the Nazi commander, Wafner (Pilou Asbæk, Game of Thrones), forces her to have sex with him.
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While investigating the tower, Boyce learns its deadly secret and will do anything to take it down.
Director Julius Avery does a great job playing into audience expectations with horror films leading to some solid jump scares. It’s even easier in the scenes with Boyce as there’s something very horrifying about a black man coming thisclose from getting caught in a Nazi lab. Avery gets every bit of tension and drama out of the more traditional horror/thriller moments.
Like Inglourious Basterds, Overlord is a highly fictionalized account of World War II and the action can get extra bloody and violent. Does Avery go a little too far with the violence and gore? Definitely not when it comes at the expense of Nazis. Those guys can’t ever get killed, burned, dismembered or battered enough. There’s a few scenes involving some other characters that are definitely not for the squeamish.
At the same time, the script does allow for some well-timed comedic moments to ease some of the tension. I appreciated that Chloe could have her own storyline and not get forced into the main plot as a love interest. Adepo makes for a welcome audience surrogate as he plays Boyce like a regular guy who’s not the best or worst fighter, but a decent person fighting horrific evil. Adepo is an engaging and relatable lead. Russell also comes off like a future big star in the making.
J.J. Abrams is one of the producers for the film and Avery seemed to adopt his philosophy of giving the audience just enough in trailers so there’s genuine surprises left when they see it. The pacing feels just right so the film winds down right after the final mystery is revealed leading to an explosive final act. There’s some great visuals as well including the intense opening act with the American cargo planes being lit up with bullets or being bombed out of the sky.
If you go in without major expectations on how it should play out, Overlord is going to be a pleasant Nazi-stomping surprise for thriller fans.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures